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Protecting Yourself from Bird Flu


What is H5N1 “bird flu?”

H5N1 bird flu is a specific strain or type of influenza virus. H5N1 bird flu is also called highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). H5N1 bird flu can infect wild birds, poultry and mammals such as cows. Human infections with H5N1 bird flu are rare, but the spread of the virus may lead to changes that make it more likely to infect humans.

At this point, there is no evidence that H5N1 spreads easily person-to-person. Since viruses can change over time, this is being closely monitored. 

What can you do?

People who have job-related or recreational exposure to infected animals, such as wild birds, poultry and dairy cows or products from infected animals, are at greater risk of being exposed to H5N1. These people may include farmers or workers on poultry and dairy farms, slaughterhouse workers, workers handling milk or other animal products, backyard bird flock owners, veterinarians and veterinary staff. These people should:

  • Follow all recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for worker protection to reduce risk of infection, including wearing personal protective equipment when appropriate.
  • Call your doctor if you feel sick. Symptoms of H5N1 bird flu can include cough, sore throat, fever and red or watery eyes.

Do you need a doctor or health insurance? Call the Health Coverage Unit at 650-616-2002 or visit

Others who have close contact with these types of animals, animal products or the surrounding areas should also consider wearing PPE such as an N-95 mask, gloves and eye protection. 

While the current risk to the general public from H5N1 bird flu is low, the CDC recommends:

  • Do not drink unpasteurized (raw) milk or prepare or eat raw milk products like raw cheese. Raw milk and cheese have not gone through a process called pasteurization that kills disease-causing germs. For more information about how raw milk can make you sick, visit the CDC’s raw milk webpage.
  • Avoid unprotected exposures to sick or dead animals, including wild birds, poultry and other domesticated birds. Handling sick or dead animals safely requires personal protective equipment and training.

San Mateo County Health continues to work with the San Mateo County Department of Agriculture/Weights & Measures to make sure the local agricultural industry has information and guidance.

For more information